When it comes down to the wire, whether a school succeeds and crucially maintains that success is all to do with an ACE approach: Attitudes, Culture and Ethos.
As crazy as it sounds, whether we be Ofsted inspectors, educationalists or simply visitors we all seem to agree that when we walk into a great school we know it, moments after arriving. Like a great lesson you can sense it as you enter. It is so deeply engrained into every fibre of a school that it is impossible to miss, and I believe that it is due to the three factors encompassed within an ACE approach to education.
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The ACE approach is based around perfecting the core elements of your school:
– A Broad and Balanced Curriculum
– The learning environment
– The Quality of Teaching
– The Quality of Learning
– Oracy and Dialogic Teaching
– Character Trait Development
Great schools have a clear leadership culture that permeates throughout the school from the Principal to the Pupil. The behaviour and attitude of the children, and dare I say the adults, in such a school, is exemplary. Everyone is signed up to and aligned to what the school is all about, encapsulated in its vision and aims.
In such a school the teaching is consistently good or better, the learning reflects this and the pedagogy underlying this is well thought out and researched. The curriculum is broad and balanced, it engages children and is relevant to them. The environment is one that everyone enjoys being in; beautiful places after all create beautiful people.
Relationships throughout such a school are a strength of the community; children, staff, governors, parents and other stakeholders all work together for each other and especially to the benefit of the children. After all the children are the ones we are truly accountable to.
Underlying all this is the school community; it has a clear, shared moral purpose, for all that it does.
These basic principles make an ACE education possible.
Can we change our educational system’s attitudes, culture and ethos?
In an ideal world, the challenge is to ensure that an ACE approach permeates the whole educational system. If everyone in the system from the politicians, to the unions, to governors, councillors and advisors sign up to getting the attitudes, culture and ethos right then what an educational system we would have, truly world class if that is what we aspire to.
Do not get me wrong, there must be strong accountability measures in place. It is our attitude towards how we implement and orchestrate these measures that affects an institution’s attitudes, culture and ethos. Here are some basic principles to follow that I read in a Twitter or Facebook post where the writer attributed them to Sir Alex Ferguson:
Set very clear goals, uncluttered by jargon
Admit it when you get things wrong
Do not have the same expectations of every student and adult; tailor learning and support to personal strengths and needs.
Know who needs encouragement and who requires sterner treatment.
Allow no idle moments.
Keep, Governors, parents, the community and other stakeholders involved.
So let me explore further how we get ACE right – I have never been one for overly academic analysis; I prefer to break things down into simple manageable bite size thoughts.
Surely we cannot dispute that in a school or system where the attitudes, culture and ethos are effective it is one which is overwhelmingly positive, happy and professional:
There is a professional approach where all staff and children are held accountable to do the best that they can do.
It is a supportive culture and there is a positive mindset.
Expectations are high but fear and retribution have no place in this approach.
It is an enjoyable place to work, staff and pupils are happy, they care and they have fun.
The school has a child rather than a data focus.
Everyone says good morning to each other, they smile, and are polite and friendly.
There is a coaching and mentoring approach when things are not going well: there is not a blame culture.
All are seen as potential leaders and everyone’s ideas are welcomed and listened to as each person whether adult or child is valued, and they know they are.
I could go on and list many more factors and observations that make up each tiny cog that links together to make up a successful school’s ethos. Most people, I would guess, will find themselves in agreement with the factors I have listed and have plenty of their own to add.
Whatever these factors are that contribute to a school’s collective attitude, culture and ethos, there may not be a definitive list, but each school, academy, chain, federation and system should strive to find their own and create a setting based on their own effective ACE.
So it begs the question why historically politicians, the media, Ofsted, the School’s Commissioners, Local Authorities and the DfE seem to prefer the strategy of threats, blame and sometimes just simple insults to try and improve standards and improve our educational system. I know that this is not the case all the time but it is probably fair to say it is their default mode when they perceive things not to be going well.
If we want a great school or academy, if we desire to improve standards, if we aspire to a world class education system then we need to get the attitude, culture and ethos right and then we’ll be able to provide an ACE education for all.
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